Corruption watch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
Grace Mugabe is like a civet cat’s stench. It’s so strong it will burn your nostrils. And it doesn’t go away in a hurry. Now, that disgraceful smell is hanging around President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s self-christened “new dispensation” and teaching us just how old things always stubbornly stick around in Zimbabwe.
The nosy media recently told on how Grace, the former first lady remembered more for her fiery temper and fake doctorate than anything else, in 2017 beat up a government employee working at her Blue Roof residence and subsequently fired her. She was miffed by the fact that the employee, Shupikai Chiroodza, had received a cash gift from ex-president Robert Mugabe for her wedding. So she beat the lights out of the poor employee with a Gucci shoe and fists.
It’s not clear why the ex-president decided to dole out the gift without informing his wife. In a normal marriage, you expect the husband and wife to make collective decisions. Since there was no such collectivity, it’s highly likely that the first marriage was going through a stormy patch, but that’s besides the matter. Either Grace was supposed to take her anger to the high seas, vent it against bitter foes Mnangagwa and the army at a rally, or, most ideally, fume it out in her Blue-roofed bedroom.
It was always going to be unfair to take her frustrations to Shupikai and start accusing her of milking her husband. You can only know the path that passes over the rock if you use it, so the local adage says. That means Grace didn’t have any business teaching other people things on milking old people like Mugabe. But that, again, is besides the point.
2017 was the year when Grace’s madness reached its zenith. The assault on Shupikai took place in March. Five months after, the demon of anger in her was swelling again. That’s when she assaulted a young South African model, Gabriella Engels, in Sandton for merely finding her in the company of her two sons, Robert Jnr and Chatunga. She left the young lady’s face in serious need of repair after using an electric cord to beat the hell out of her. Needless to mention, the problem was not with her sons — who certainly needed a week or two in manners school — but the model, just as her husband was not the problem in the wedding gift scandal.
Even though word out there says there is a warrant of arrest for Grace in some office in Johannesburg, the former first lady has escaped prosecution over the Engels assault. And it’s so unsettling that the Mnangagwa “new dispensation” is also letting her go scot free this side of the Limpopo. If there was ever any benefit of doubt that the administration enjoyed, the fresh revelation that Grace beat up a government employee and then fired her has removed all the dregs and left the jar bottom clear.
When Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe after a smart military coup, his caretaker government started telling people that it was going to do things differently. It promised the rule of law and justice, good governance and respect for humanity. It said it would fight corruption and bring all criminals, starting with those it purported were surrounding Mugabe, to book. That, in essence, is what it meant when it rebranded itself the “new dispensation”.
Lots of people, despite the frenzy of seeing Mugabe’s back, doubted the post-Mugabe’s administration lofty tale of having turned into new wine — never mind the type of bottle. That was predictable, of course, seeing as it is that, here, the word “new” is often abused. For instance, we are still talking of “new farmers” almost two decades after they were given farms under the fast track land reform programme. But then, what sense was going to come out of the post-Mugabe leadership considering that it was there with Mugabe right from the start, literally? Pretty the same as that mad man who brings down a ramshackle hovel, uses the same material to build another house and goes about celebrating having built a new one.
Two basic things betray the post-Mugabe administration’s lie about being a new dispensation, in the context of Grace’s ill-treatment of Shupikai. After the coup, the establishment chased away Innocent Tizora from his post as the senior principal director in charge of State residences and put Douglas Tapfuma in his stead. Shupikai informed Tapfuma about her irregular dismissal by Grace and Tizora who didn’t even bother to take the matter to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) as required. Tapfuma, whose office is under the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), didn’t do anything about it either.
Secondly, Shupikai took her matter to the CSC — then under Mariyawanda Nzuwa — but no action was taken to redress her unprocedural expulsion. In the post-coup period, the CSC still looked away despite pleas from Shupikai. Now, out of desperation, she has taken her case to the High Court so that she may be reinstated. She was left with no-one to turn to even under the so-called new dispensation. It’s not clear if she is going to press assault charges against Grace, but there is no reason to believe that the National Prosecuting Authority or the police will act if we judge things on the basis of CSC’s non-action.
There is no prize for saying this, but Grace never had the official authority to fire a civil servant like Shupikai. Yes, as Chris Mutsvangwa once said, she was conflating government business and her bedroom. But that doesn’t make what she was doing right. Nor does it mean that the post-Mugabe administration must turn a blind eye. Tapfuma was supposed to heed Shupikai’s pleas for justice and ensure due procedure to address her plight. He is a senior employee working right under the nose of the president. That proximity, naturally, condemns Mnangagwa. There is no basis to assume that Tapfuma kept the matter away from him. Mnangagwa knew about Grace’s excesses and, as the president, must have made sure that corrective action was taken. But he didn’t.
Similarly, he must have reined in the CSC. The commission is rattling ahead with impunity. You can’t spot the difference between the CSC of Mugabe’s time and the current one, despite the fact that, during his first 100 days in office, Mnangagwa promised a new work ethic within the civil service. As it stands, its failure to deal with Shupikai’s case is just but one in many other cases whereby it submits itself to political manipulation and violates its own covenant,
A recent report by the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) on sexual harassment in the Immigration Department casts telling light on this. It boggles the mind that the ZGC has not yet made public such a useful report, but more is coming on this soon. The point here is, the gender commission found out during its own investigations that several Immigration employees were molested by senior department staff. Despite the victims taking their issues to the CSC, nothing has been done to date.
As the clock hand ticks round, the clearer it becomes that the Mnangagwa administration lacks the capacity for newness. In fact, it has already done things that are older than the Mugabe dispensation, so to speak. Mugabe never shut down the internet, just used the spooks for sporadic and largely harmless jamming.
Mugabe used soldiers to persecute protesting citizens, but he never ordered them to fire live ammunition at innocent civilians at point-blank range.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org